UPDATE 7/14/2011: Two days after The Huffington Post reported on financial problems at a social service center run by Presidential Citizens Medal winner Daisy Brooks, Brooks said readers had donated $415 to her program. The 10 contributions made through the center's website ranged from $10 to $100, and Brooks said the money would be used for student scholarships for vocational classes at the center.
"I was very pleased," Brooks said. "I got a feeling we’re probably going to be getting more."
WASHINGTON -- Daisy Brooks got a medal last year. This year she could use some cash.
On August 4, 2010, President Barack Obama presented the septuagenarian with the Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation's second-highest civilian honor. He cited her years helping pregnant teenagers and wayward adolescents in northern Illinois.
Chosen from around 6,000 nominees, Brooks was one of 13 Americans honored at the White House ceremony. Her citation lauded her "lifelong commitment to helping many of North Chicago's young mothers and their infants."
Less than a year later, though, Daisy's Resource and Developmental Center is struggling to stay open. The state's budget crisis and the stubborn recession have put her center some $200,000 in the hole.
"I've been in business 37 years and never had a financial problem like this," Brooks told The Huffington Post.
A local newspaper proclaimed 2010 a "banner year" for Brooks after she received the medal and was later feted at a gala marking her retirement. (She still works as a consultant at the center she founded after she couldn't find decent day care for her own children.)
But 2011 hasn't been as bright for Daisy's. Donations were down during its annual telethon on a local cable station, a sign of the lingering recession. More worrisome, Illinois social service agencies slashed their support to community providers like Daisy's thanks to billions of dollars in state budget deficits.
"The state of Illinois is broke. We had to make some very hard decisions," said state Rep. Rita Mayfield, a Democrat who represents North Chicago. "Everyone is going to have to share the pain. There are no sacred cows."
Brooks has been forced to pare back programs that have helped thousands of disadvantaged young people in the exurban city near the Wisconsin border that is home to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center:
- One month after her White House honors -- and for the first time since she started it in 1989 -- Brooks had to cancel her signature residential program for troubled girls and now leases space to a similar program run by another school. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services wasn't "making enough referrals to keep me solvent," Brooks said.
- After giving Daisy's grants three years in a row, the Illinois Workforce Development agency cut off funding for the center's vocational programs. Last year, Brooks enrolled 50 students in GED, English as a second language, cosmetology, office skills and nursing assisting classes. This year the center is hosting none of those programs.
- Summer classes in the center's alternative school for high school students, which were to begin July 1, were canceled for the first time.
Kevante Curry, 18, is among the students who had hoped to enroll in summer courses at Daisy's. His father Kenneth told HuffPost that Kevante, who will enter his senior year at North Chicago High School this fall, lacks enough credits to graduate with his class because he "got lost in the shuffle" when he was younger and skipped school. A disabled former warehouse supervisor, Curry can't afford to pay for classes at Kevante's regular school and was counting on Daisy to help his son make up for lost time.
"He was held back. He struggled, but bless his heart, he's a very good kid. He wants to graduate on time," Curry said. "I know the program - they give each and every student more attention, as opposed to a larger classroom. ... Daisy's helped so many kids in the community. Without it, I can't tell you how many kids would just be left out in the cold."
In 1998, long before the White House honored Daisy's contribution to her community, Oprah Winfrey paid tribute in a show about mothers. The famously generous TV titan handed Brooks a check for $100,000 and later followed up with more donations for a total of $225,000.
But when Brooks invited Winfrey to appear on her telethon last year to help juice contributions, it was clear she has moved on. Winfrey's staff sent a letter turning down her request and suggesting there would be no more checks in the mail.
In February 2010, Brooks wrote to President Obama asking for federal stimulus funds to help keep her center going. "I pray you will be receptive to our needs," she wrote.
Brooks got no money. But last summer she did get a phone call from the White House saying she had been nominated for the citizens medal for all her good works.
Later, when Obama asked Brooks how she did all the things she does, she said, "I told him, 'Me and God.' "
Since then, "I've been praying for something to come through," Brooks said. Not much has.
"It didn't help fundraising," she said of the presidential medal. "I haven't gotten any response in reference to funding since then. I've gotten a lot of accolades, a lot of resolutions, but no funding."
The White House did not return a HuffPost request for comment.
"I'm worried about next year. I have students calling me every day from dysfunctional families" needing help, Brooks said. "I really want to continue this program."
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